February 1, 2024

Historic Review – What is it?

Old blueprint drawing of the front elevation of a house that needs a historic review.

In Portland, historic homes and cherished historic neighborhoods follow special rules—regulations created to protect these important community gems. When proposing projects that affect Historic or Conservation Landmarks and Districts, a Historic Review is required.

The intent of the review process is to protect important historic resources and preserve the history of an area. This includes proposals that impact archaeological, cultural, historic, and architectural resources. The process ensures any changes maintain the integrity and significance of a property. In addition, the review process provides public awareness and gives community members an opportunity to voice concerns or demonstrate support for projects that alter historic properties.

Who does it apply to?

Property information is available online, so visit the Historic and Conservation Districts’ website for access to maps that will identify if your site is a landmark or located within a Historic or Conservation District. PortlandMaps.com is another resource for searching property data about historic significance.

A few examples of Portland neighborhoods listed as Historic and Conservation Districts include Irvington and Ladd’s Addition.

The six different types of Historic Review.

There are six different types of Historic Review, including:

  1. Historic Resource Review
  2. Historic Designation Review
  3. Historic Designation Removal Review
  4. Historic Preservation Incentive Review
  5. Demolition Review, and
  6. 120-Day Demolition Delay

Item #1 above, Historic Resource Review, impacts homeowners the most. This process allows for the review of alterations to and new development within the boundary of Historic and Conservation Districts, so that’s what we’ll discuss below.

My property is in a Historic District. What does that mean?

It means that any exterior work (new construction or alteration) must be approved through a Historic Resource Review before a building permit is issued.

Like an Adjustment Review or a Design Review, Historic Resource Reviews are processed through either a Type I, Type Ix, Type II, or Type III procedure. The determination of which projects go through which type of review procedure is based on the location, type of development, and physical characteristics.

What is the City looking for when reviewing a Historic Review proposal?

Designated historic areas (landmarks and districts) are subject to Historic Resource Review to ensure significant historic and cultural elements are not lost during alteration, addition, and new construction projects.

Many historic zones have their own specific set of guidelines and requirements. If not, the City publishes general review guidelines as well.

Renovations to buildings in historic districts must retain and preserve the historic character of the existing building. New additions, exterior alterations, or new construction must also be compatible with the massing, size, scale, and architectural features of the existing building and the district as a whole. When retrofitting to improve accessibility for persons with disabilities or accommodating seismic improvements, design solutions cannot compromise the architectural integrity of the landmark or contributing resource.

In addition, the review process ensures any new buildings intend to maintain the historic character of the area. That does not mean your building needs to replicate a 1920’s Craftsman. However, it does require conscientious design decisions to make sure your proposal maintains the character of the neighborhood. New construction needs to complement the massing, size, scale, and architectural features of the district as a whole.

What is the process?

Approval requirements vary depending on the location and complexity of the project. but a typical submission includes a completed application along with a written statement explaining how your proposal meets the approval criteria. For complicated projects, a pre-application conference may be required.

Similar to Adjustment and Design Reviews, you must submit a variety of drawings, including a site plan, floor plans, exterior elevations, and exterior details. Think about the information needed to illustrate how the proposed project fits within the historical context of the property. Share specific information about the materials, finishes, windows, doors, and other details. Also, consider including photographs.

Keep in mind there may be additional requirements depending on the complexity of your site and proposal. These may include environmental studies, stormwater mitigation plans, and neighborhood contact information.

Basically, you have to submit enough information (written narrative, drawings, studies, recommendations from the neighborhood, etc.) to convince the city that your proposal meets the requirements for approval.

How long does a Historic Review take?

The length of the process depends on the location and complexity. In general, plan on a two to four-month timeframe.

However, like Adjustment and Design Reviews, the length depends on the thoroughness of your application and assumes the planner doesn’t have any questions. Trust us, they will have questions! Based on our experience, prepare for a minimum of three months for a very simple review and up to a year for a very complicated review. And this is the city process ONLY. This does not include design or preparation time.

How much does it cost?

Like the time it takes, the cost also depends on the complexity of the review. Budget anywhere from $2k – $40k. These are city fees ONLY. This does not include professional design fees or fees to prepare the submission documents.

Do the neighbors have to be notified?

Yes, neighborhood notification is part of most Historic Reviews. Depending on the location and complexity of the project, property owners and organizations within a certain boundary receive a copy of the drawings and other supporting documentation.

Neighbors, neighborhood associations, and recognized organizations can comment on the proposal if they want. If someone objects to your proposal, they can write to the planner and explain their objections. The approval does not hinge on neighborhood comments, but if a neighbor or an organization has a valid objection, the staff or review committee will take that into consideration.

Am I guaranteed approval?

As with all city reviews, there are no guarantees until you go through the process. See below for how we help with this.

What if I’m not approved?! What options do I have?

If the city planner denies the Historic Review, you can appeal the decision at a public hearing scheduled before the Historic Landmarks Commission. An appeal costs $250. At the hearing, you present your proposal to the committee and explain why it should be approved and why the planner’s decision should be overturned.

Likewise, if your project is approved but your neighbors object, they too have the right to submit the fee and appeal to the committee.

The decision of the Historic Landmarks Commission is final. Any further appeal is to the State Land Use Board of Appeals.

I received approval! Now what?

Upon final approval, the County Recorder’s Office officially documents the Historic Review decision and the proposal permanently becomes part of the property title. You can now submit your project for a construction permit.

How does Christie Architecture help with a Historic Review?

Christie Architecture has successfully submitted projects for Historic Review and had them all approved!

When talking with a client about their project, we will identify right away if the project is located in a Historic Overlay. We do not proceed with design work until we understand the overlay requirements. Then, we design the project with these requirements/guidelines under consideration. We do all of the research, including meeting with a city planner if needed.

In addition, we provide all of the design services for the proposal. We prepare all of the submittal materials, from addressing the approval guidelines to producing all of the drawings. We follow it through from submission to county recording.

Can I make changes to the design after approval?

No, just like a Design Review or Adjustment Review, you cannot make changes to the proposal after approval. You must build the approved design (or not build anything at all). This means that the design should be resolved to a high level of detail BEFORE submitting your application. In order to do so, the site plan, exterior elevations and details, and exterior material pallete need to be resolved in their entirety.

Good interior decisions are often tied to exterior ones, so speeding through the bare requirements for the submittal process can paint your project into a corner. Our recommendation is to fully resolve the project prior to City review so that all concerns are vetted without penalty. Obviously, there is a risk in pushing this far into a developed design without a guarantee of approval. But with our deep experience and understanding of what the City goals are, we are able to guide a successful design process to completion. It does not serve us nor clients to let a project proceed down a path of low probability acceptance.

Need help with a historic property?

Want to know the best words to describe a Historic Review? Complicated and tedious. But at CA we know what the city is looking for and how to design a building that maintains historic intent while meeting client needs. Most importantly, we know how to navigate the review process so the design you love receives approval. Call us.